NFL Nation: Yamon Figurs

Reviewing Saturday's action at LP Field:

Tennessee Titans 14, Minnesota Vikings 3

Preseason record: 0-1

Of interest: The Vikings' offense proved very much to be a work in progress, going scoreless until Ryan Longwell's 37-yard field goal in the third quarter. Quarterback Donovan McNabb's two series featured 11 mostly short-range passes and both ended in punts. Backup Joe Webb proved once again to be an effective open-field runner, scrambling five times for 33 yards, but at some point you would like to see him stay in the pocket. In his debut, rookie Christian Ponder completed eight of 13 passes for 84 yards. He made a nice play to escape the pocket and convert a third-and-16, but it was called back by penalty. It's likely Ponder will see work with the second team next week. ... Receiver Jaymar Johnson put in a stake at the punt returner job with a 40-yard return... Cornerbacks Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin, along with defensive linemen Kevin Williams and Jared Allen, did not play. ... Cornerback Chris Cook was beat on a 45-yard touchdown pass to Yamon Figurs, whom he lost sight of after quarterback Jake Locker dropped the snap.

Local coverage: Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, via Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune: "I thought their effort was good, and the execution was good up to a point. We always want points. We'll have to make bigger strides next time with that first unit." ... Cook on the touchdown, via Zulgad: "Definitely saw the ball on the ground and just came up thinking that we were going to get the ball, pursuing the ball and they got a lucky play on it." ... The Vikings don't appear to have done much to address their shaky depth at cornerback, writes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com. ... Receiver Percy Harvin isn't worried about the Vikings' offense because it will rely on tailback Adrian Peterson, not the passing game. Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press explains.

Next: Saturday at Seattle Seahawks

We bounced between the Titans-Vikings and Colts-Rams games Saturday night on the Internet, trading focus on one in exchange for a sense of both.

A quick reaction to each …

Tennessee Titans 14, Minnesota Vikings 3

Significant action for a first-round rookie quarterback before halftime is about as interesting a thing as there can be in the preseason, and Jake Locker relieved Matt Hasselbeck early and played to the half.

Locker was solid. A miscommunication on one throw to Marc Mariani left me wondering if the receiver broke the wrong way or the quarterback threw to the wrong spot. But even when Locker dropped a snap, good things happened for him. He picked the ball up, moved to his right and found Yamon Figurs for a 45-yard touchdown.

Locker made several good throws and reacted well to pressure, finishing 7-for-10 for 89 yards and the score. The Titans didn’t give the ball away, took it away twice, minimized the miscues and didn’t suffer badly for them.

So in Mike Munchak’s first preseason game at a head coach, the Titans showed the sort of discipline and poise he and his staff have preached. They’ll find plenty to pick apart but plenty to build on too. They had to be pleased overall.

St. Louis Rams 33, Indianapolis Colts 10

With Peyton Manning on the sideline in street clothes, the Colts saw Curtis Painter start and Dan Orlovsky play the bulk of the game. Painter threw one pick, and Orlovsky two, helping position the Rams for short, easy scoring drives. St. Louis scored on seven of its first nine possessions.

Indianapolis doesn’t typically put a lot of emphasis on preseason results and the Colts got little going on either side of the ball.

Twelve first downs, just 10 pass completions and only two third-down conversions are hardly numbers the Colts will be happy about as they rehash the game in the offensive meetings rooms.

The defense was put in bad spots by the turnovers and was on the field for 34:18. Rams starting quarterback Sam Bradford had time to make decisions unhurried and St. Louis quarterbacks were not sacked.

But the Colts will hardly pull out any hair over how things went -- a veteran team is used to such results in the preseason, and minus Manning it was hardly a surprise.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans severed ties with their coach and their quarterback and set about for a fresh start.

They’ll suffer from time lost with the lockout, but in Mike Munchak, a largely new staff and a new combo of quarterbacks in Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker, the franchise hasn’t just turned a page.

It’s opened a new book.

The early chapters could well be choppy and rough.

Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray is looking for a bigger defense that will stop the run first, and offensive coordinator Chris Palmer is bringing a scholarly approach to a group used to being screamed at. They have new signal callers on offense and defense (middle linebacker Barrett Ruud was signed as a free agent from Tampa Bay), so there is a lot of new stuff to cover.

But external expectations are low. If the Titans can get their best player, Chris Johnson, on the field and make strides on defense, it’s not impossible to improve on last season's disastrous 6-10 record.

Munchak preaches the virtues of being a true professional -- know what to do and do it. The question is, does he have enough talented guys who, following that mantra, can win football games?

THREE HOT ISSUES

1) Will Johnson be around?

It’s hard to imagine his sitting out the season. The flamboyant running back loves the NFL stage. But he's one of the league’s most dynamic players and is certainly scheduled to be underpaid at $1.065 million. The Titans won’t negotiate if he’s not at camp. He won’t come to camp without a new deal. There are currently no signs of any real movement.

He’s not fired up about a compromise that would have him join the team but not practice until a deal is reached. Someone will bend. But in the meantime, we’re likely to see a much less threatening offense.

“It’s tough to tell how long it takes to become an issue,” left tackle Michael Roos said. “Once he’s here he’s here and we start working with him. We’ll be a different team without him. He's definitely one of the top two, if not the best running back in the league. A special player, very dynamic. It makes for a different kind of offense when he’s not in there.

“The plays wouldn’t change. Just without having his speed in there people would play us differently. I wouldn’t say it would necessarily be a worse offense. It would just be someone else running it, Javon Ringer or the rookie (Jamie Harper). It wouldn’t have CJ’s dynamic and people having to worry about his speed.”

[+] EnlargeTennessee's Chris Johnson
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThe Titans will be a different team if they are without Chris Johnson, who rushed for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
If defenses aren't worrying about that speed, things will be far more difficult for Hasselbeck and the team’s other best weapons, receiver Kenny Britt and tight end Jared Cook.

2) How will Munchak’s style translate?

He’s a Hall of Fame player, and he’s been a top position coach for years. Odds are Munchak can coach a football team.

“He’s his own man,” linebacker Gerald McRath said. “Everybody is going to have to sit back and watch, but it’s definitely going to be different. He has that personality. He wants to establish something that’s his, something that he’s worked hard for. I feel like it’s a great opportunity. It’s a privilege just to be involved in that, to be able to put into some of that.”

The question really is about his CEO role. How does he deal with the late-night calls about DUIs or the overeating defensive lineman? How does he react to the city calling for the starting quarterback’s head or the player enduring stuff at home that’s hurting his play?

Munchak has talked about accountability and discipline and consequences, things that all had slipped at the end for Jeff Fisher. Can he enforce all that effectively?

One other thing: Fisher was great with rules and clock management. In Munchak’s first turn in the primary headset, it will be interesting to see how he fares in those departments.

3) Can the Titans stay healthy up front?

Part of the Titans’ push to be bigger up front on defense is about being better against the run. Part of it is about being more rugged deep into the season. Some of Tennessee’s speed rushers in recent years wore down late, and the Titans suffered for it.

Tracy Rocker has big shoes to fill as defensive line coach, where Jim Washburn had a great run of success. Can Gray and Rocker show the discipline to pace the linemen the way they are talking about doing now?

“I think we have to be real smart this year because our (defensive linemen), for some reason, get hurt quite a bit,” Munchak said. “We have to limit their plays not only in games but in practice so you don’t lose guys… We have to find a way to keep them healthy. You can’t control all that, but we have to be smart.”

BIGGEST SURPRISE

It’s early, of course. But the team’s talking up Cook again, and this time he seems prepared to live up to it. The tight end is running plenty of routes that take him deeper than most tight ends, and the quarterbacks are thrilled to have such a big target stretching the field. He seems to be responding better to the mellow approach of Palmer than he did to the high intensity of Mike Heimerdinger.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Britt’s offseason was filled with off-the-field issues. The Titans gave him a clean slate coming in, but hamstring problems have kept him out of camp so far. He said that he thought yoga was going to help him solve such problems but that his instructor apparently took the money and ran with it. The Titans are already without their most dynamic player in Johnson. With Britt sidelined, they are also missing No. 2.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • McRath is probably the odd man out in the linebacker shuffle, unless he makes a charge to overtake Will Witherspoon on the weakside. McRath knows he didn’t make enough plays last year, but he’s saying the right things and carrying himself the right way. Maybe he’s a special teams stud if he isn’t playing defense.
  • [+] EnlargeTennessee's Mike Munchak
    Don McPeak/US PRESSWIRENew coach Mike Munchak, a Hall of Fame offensive lineman, will have high expectations for his interior line.
  • The pressure is on the Titans' interior offensive line. Munchak and O-line coach Bruce Matthews, both Hall of Fame linemen, expect Leroy Harris, Eugene Amano and Jake Scott to play better in their second season all together. If they don’t, we’ll call it part missed assessment and part blown confidence. Keeping Hasselbeck upright and healthy is a huge deal.
  • I’m not sure how the Titans will distribute their tight ends without tipping their intentions. Cook is the receiver and Craig Stevens is the blocker. Veteran addition Daniel Graham can do both but is more a blocker.
  • Jordan Babineaux was lured to the Titans from Seattle largely because of his relationship with Gray when both were with the Seahawks. They shouldn’t do anything that entails Michael Griffin playing anything but centerfield. And Babineaux is more a free than a strong safety, But the Titans will blur the distinction. Can he challenge for Chris Hope’s job? If he does, will Hope take a pay cut to stay?
  • The Titans actually have reasonable depth at cornerback. Cortland Finnegan needs to produce big in a contract year and Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty are up-and-comers. Ryan Mouton was lost for the year with an Achilles injury. But veteran addition Frank Walker made a nice early impression.
  • This team always has an undrafted receiver who creates buzz early. This time it looks to be Michael Preston out of Heidelberg. He’s got nice size and athleticism.
  • There’s not enough evidence to know if seventh-rounder CB Tommie Campbell can play yet. But he certainly had physical attributes that makes receivers take notice. Receiver Yamon Figurs recently went against him and came away muttering that Campbell was the biggest corner he’s ever seen. Figurs said Campbell, who is 6-foot-3, was “like a giraffe.”
  • Jake Locker has shown steady improvement and has been far better early on that I anticipated he would be.
  • If the Titans are going to be a lot better on defense, second-year end Derrick Morgan and second-round pick Akeem Ayers, a strongside linebacker, are going to have a lot to do with it. Morgan is a very good player, and Ayers bring the Titans size they’ve not had at linebacker since the franchise relocated.
  • Leadership was a giant issue last season. There was hardly any when things got tough. The Titans' additions could solve that. Hasselbeck, Graham, Ruud and Ayers are going to be big in that department.
  • Even if Justin Gage has a huge preseason, the Titans should consider moving on if everyone else is healthy. He’s simply not been a steady enough playmaker, and if his presence is going to keep the team from exploring the upside of someone like Damian Williams, it’s not the right move.
  • Where does recently added, versatile veteran offensive lineman Pat McQuistan fit in? The Titans have a lot of young linemen they like, but his case for edging somebody out will include his experience at every position but center. That could increase their flexibility on the bench.
Consider it one of the biggest draft mysteries in the AFC North.

The Baltimore Ravens deservedly have a reputation as one of the NFL's top drafting teams. But they also may be the league's worst at drafting wide receivers.

How bad is Baltimore's track record at the position?

Consider this: Since the beginning of the franchise in 1996, the Ravens have selected 16 wide receivers and none have had a 1,000-yard season in Baltimore. Only Brandon Stokley, a former fourth-round pick of the Ravens in 1999, had a 1,000-yard season in his career with the Indianapolis Colts in 2004.

For every draft success like linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed, the Ravens also have busts at receiver like Travis Taylor and Mark Clayton. Receivers Yamon Figurs, Demetrius Williams, Devard Darling and Pat Johnson were all drafted by Baltimore with high hopes but flamed out. The most successful receivers in Baltimore have been veteran free agents such as Derrick Mason and Anquan Boldin.

It's baffling how mightily Baltimore struggles drafting receivers, especially since the team is so good at finding talent at other positions. Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome, one of the best in the business, has drafted Pro Bowlers at running back, tight end, linebacker, safety, cornerback and the offensive and defensive lines. Yet, somehow, Baltimore continues to strike out at receiver.

With the Ravens searching for a speedy deep threat to complement Mason and Boldin, can they finally hit a home run in this year's draft?

Jason CampbellWesley Hitt/Getty ImagesJason Campbell was sacked four times as the offensive line failed to protect their new quarterback.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It was a familiar scene for the Oakland Raiders, and that's a problem.

In one end of a sullen locker room sat the Raiders’ quarterback and his receivers. They didn’t say much. They were beleaguered after a completely ineffective performance in a 38-13 thrashing at the hands of the Tennessee Titans, who were by far, the superior, most prepared and most efficient team on the field Sunday.

Jason Campbell may be in and JaMarcus Russell may be out at quarterback, but the ineffectiveness that saddled and defined the Raiders last season still hovers over the team like an unforgiving and unrelenting stench.

“When I woke up this morning I didn’t think this is how the day would go,” Raiders tight end Zach Miller said.

The Raiders thought they had moved beyond this type of performance.

They thought they had turned the corner from being one of worst organizations in the league and had become a legitimate playoff contender. That is one of the reasons why the Raiders pranced around in T-shirts predicting they’d win the AFC West this year.

However, as they fly across the country Sunday night, the Raiders must realize that true NFL turnarounds occur on the playing field, not in the draft room or on the training-camp practice field.

It was only one game, but the 2010 Oakland Raiders look like more like the 2003-09 Raiders, who lost 11 or more games for a record seven straight seasons, than the team Oakland thought it already had become.

After Week 1 of the NFL season, we cannot talk about the addition of a new, effective quarterback or a shiny new draft class that changed the defense. All we can talk about is that the Raiders are now 29-84 since advancing to the Super Bowl in the 2002 season. For now, the misery in Oakland continues.

The complete beating shocked the Raiders and their coaching staff.

Oakland was convinced this season would be different, and maybe it still will be. But there is now a serious dose of doubt that was not present during the offseason.

[+] EnlargeRaiders
Kirby Lee/US PresswireThe defense couldn't stop the Titans as Tennessee put up 24 straight points in the first half.
The Raiders hired the respected Hue Jackson as their offensive coordinator. They traded for Campbell and cut Russell. They had a solid, smart draft. They performed, for the most part, solidly in the preseason.

All systems were go. Until kickoff. Then, the Raiders reverted back to being the same old Raiders.

Oakland’s Yamon Figurs fumbled the opening kickoff and the Raiders barely recovered the ball. But it was a sign of things to come. Oakland was sloppy and was outplayed on both sides of f the ball.

The Raiders never truly seemed to be in the game even though they took a 3-0 lead after a Vince Young turnover in Titans’ territory.

Oakland, who compiled some garbage-time yardage after trailing 31-6 after three quarters, had 136 yards of offense in the first half. Tennessee sacked Campbell four times in the first half and batted down three of his passes. He never had time to set up the deep pass and many of his 22 completions came on check-downs. Their longest pass play was for 27 yards and no other went for more than 16 yards.

They were 0-for-7 on third-down conversions in the first half. Starting receivers Louis Murphy and Darrius Heyward-Bey combined for five catches for 39 yards. Heyward-Bey, the 2009 first-round pick whom Oakland has high expectations for this season, had one catch for 11 yards.

Campbell finished 22 of 37 for 180 yards. He looked hesitant and didn’t appear to completely trust his line, which was anchored by rookie center Jared Veldheer, a converted tackle. Campbell fumbled twice, losing one deep in Oakland territory. His one interception was nearly brought back for a touchdown.

Campbell wasn’t Russell. But he wasn’t Jim Plunkett circa 1980, either. Oakland owner Al Davis compared Campbell’s arrival to Plunkett’s arrival -- which sparked a title in the 1980 season. Jackson is supposed to revive an offense that scored only 17 touchdowns last season. Yet, the Raiders, who were penalized 10 times for 77 yards, didn’t score their lone touchdown Sunday until 9:58 remained in a blowout.

“We’re not proud of how we played today,” Campbell said. “I thought they were more detailed today than we were … it’s deflating.”

Defensively, the Raiders gave up too many big plays. While Oakland did a decent job of stopping rushing king Chris Johnson at times, he ended up with 142 yards in 27 carries. He had a 76-yard touchdown run and the Titans also had a 56-yard passing play for a score.

To his credit, Oakland coach Tom Cable -- who will once again be the subject of hot-seat talk if this type of play continues -- was clearly perturbed. Cable has earned a reputation for being an eternal optimist in his tenure as Oakland’s coach. Cable, who is now 9-20 as the Raiders’ head coach, didn’t paint a rosy picture Sunday.

“I’m very disappointed in this one game,” Cable said. “We were very hesitant in all three phases early in the game, and never seemed to get out of it.”

Again, it’s only one game, but it’s painfully obvious to Oakland that it is not out of the abyss yet.

Seven-step drop

September, 22, 2008
9/22/08
4:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

 
 Greg Fiume/Getty Images
 Le'Ron McClain plows his way into the end zone for a touchdown Sunday against Cleveland.
  • Baltimore is making fourth quarters look unusually easy for the NFL. For the second game in a row, the Ravens ate up clock running the ball when 71,000-plus fans and the Cleveland Browns knew what was coming. Behind the hard running of Le'Ron McClain and fresh legs of rookie Ray Rice, Baltimore used more than nine minutes of the final period on one drive by running 13 of 14 plays. We doubt Baltimore can dominate every game that way, but it's still impressive.

"It's great when we can do that, keep the defense off the field and finish the game," McClain said. "We're just sending shout-outs to the league that we have a strong team and we're going to finish strong."

  • We also are convinced that there is a new special teams leader in the clubhouse in the AFC North. For the past two or three years, that mantel was undoubtedly held by the Cleveland Browns. But the Baltimore Ravens' special teams out-dueled Cleveland on Sunday and has been more consistent this year. The Ravens also have depth. Top returner Yamon Figurs was injured Sunday and Jim Leonhard filled in admirably with 99 total return yards, which didn't include another long return that was called back.

"It's amazing on this team, and [GM] Ozzie [Newsome] has done a great job," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. "But we've got a lot of guys who could return, kick returns and punt returns."

  • Although Cleveland's entire offensive line is not playing up to par, right tackle Kevin Shaffer is having the hardest time of the bunch. For three straight games Shaffer has been pushed around and opposing teams are smelling the weakness. Left tackle Joe Thomas has been the only consistent lineman, so opponents are testing Shaffer instead. Sunday it was the Ravens' defensive end/linebacker Terrell Suggs, who had a field day with two sacks and a forced fumble.
  • Everyone saw the worst of Browns starting quarterback Derek Anderson Sunday. He is a "rhythm passer" in every sense of the phrase, and when Anderson is rattled things tend to quickly snowball. Anderson was sacked five times and hit several more. So by the second half, his reads were extremely poor. All three interceptions were on throws he shouldn't have made while trying to fit balls into very tight spots.

"I expect more out of myself," Anderson said. "I expect more out of everybody else on this team. It all starts with me. If I start playing better, and if we start offensively making plays, everything is going to start rolling a little bit more."

  • Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Ocho Cinco is going to have a tough time putting up numbers if the first three weeks are any indication. Opponents simply refuse to let Ocho Cinco (three catches, 29 yards) beat them. He gets most of the coverage and attention in the passing game, which allows others opportunities to make plays. T.J. Houshmandzadeh nearly beat the New York Giants with 12 catches for 146 yards and a touchdown, but it wasn't enough.
  • The Bengals really missed top cornerback Johnathan Joseph in the lineup against New York. Giants quarterback Eli Manning completed 26 passes to eight different receivers, and he needed every one in a 26-23 overtime win. New York often picked on replacement David Jones, who had nine tackles but only one pass defense. The Bengals are probably wondering how many of those close plays a healthy Joseph could have made.
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers were an abysmal 2-of-13 on third down against the Philadelphia Eagles. That won't win many games period, let alone against a very good Philadelphia Eagles team. Obviously the pass protection (nine total sacks allowed) had a lot to do with it, but Pittsburgh's overall struggles on offense also were surprising.

AFC North: Seven-step drop

August, 12, 2008
8/12/08
8:33
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

The Cincinnati Bengals and Green Bay Packers concluded a busy opening week of preseason football on Monday night.

Now, it's a time to reflect.

In our first installment of The Seven-Step Drop, here are seven things that caught my eye during week one of the preseason in the AFC North.

  • Browns starting quarterback Derek Anderson got a small monkey off his back with a solid performance last week against the New York Jets. Although it was unspoken leading into the game, it was important for Anderson to put his struggles at the end of the season behind him. He went 4 for 5 for 20 yards and a touchdown in his only series of the game. Anderson's connection with receiver Braylon Edwards was as pretty a touchdown pass as you're going to see in the preseason.
  • The depth of the Cleveland Browns' secondary looks as bad as advertised early on. Sure, it was just one game, but giving up two passing touchdowns of 70 yards or more against the Jets were inexcusable. Both big plays involved poor coverage and bad angles taken to the football. Starting corners Brandon McDonald and Eric Wright did fine in limited action with the first team. But as soon as they left the field, the floodgates opened in the passing game.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Rashard Mendenhall had a solid debut at tailback. He had a slow first week of training camp, then gradually improved during the second week. Mendenhall carried that momentum into his first NFL game with 34 yards on seven carries. He also returned a kickoff and will get a look there. Mendenhall still runs a little too upright for our liking. But with additional coaching and several more hits like the one he took on his first carry Friday, Mendenhall will learn to keep his pads lower.
  • Charlie Batch's broken collarbone will be a significant loss for Pittsburgh. More than anything, Batch was the calming influence behind the scenes for starter Ben Roethlisberger and rookie Dennis Dixon. The Steelers signed Byron Leftwich on Sunday, but he will not be able to provide the type of leadership, or know the offense as well as Batch, who tutored the other two quarterbacks behind the scenes.
  • Baltimore Ravens return specialist Yamon Figurs already looks in mid-season form. He had a punt return of 52 yards and a kickoff return of 48 yards against the New England Patriots last week. With the additions of head coach John Harbaugh, who was once a long-time special teams coach, and assistant Jerry Rosburg, Baltimore expects to be extremely good in the third phase of the game this season.
  • After a two-turnover performance by Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller against New England, this is a golden opportunity for Troy Smith to take the lead. Smith will get the start Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings. If Smith proves he can move the offense and, most importantly, take care of the football, it should give Smith some separation in this three-way race with two preseason games remaining.
  • The Bengals were a mixed bag. I liked what I saw from tight end Ben Utecht (four catches, 34 yards, one touchdown) and active rookie linebacker Keith Rivers (seven tackles) in their first game as Bengals. But I didn't like what I saw from the first-team defense, which really needs to work on its tackling. Cincinnati's starters had very poor technique, particularly safety Marvin White, and paid the price often by getting trucked several times by the Green Bay Packers in the first quarter. The good news is the Bengals have time to re-teach the fundamentals.

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